Mar 11 2005
This week I’m writing live from CeBIT, the largest technology tradeshow in
the world with over 6700 exhibitors and 600,000 attendees.
First of all, there are no words that can even begin to possibly describe
this event. Basically every manufacturer in the world of any device that takes
(or makes) electricity is here. So while there is a large IT presence
(enterprise hardware, software, and services), there are also thousands of
exhibitors showing off RFID technology, music players, televisions, home theater
stuff, cameras, robots, copy machines, cash registers, fuel cells, printers,
navigation and telematics equipment, and about a million other things I’m
The CeBIT Experience
Before I take a look at the specific cool things I saw, let me try to explain
just how big this show is. First of all, it takes place in a convention “center”
that’s actually made of up 26 individual exhibit halls. Each of these halls is
probably as big as a “standard” convention center by itself. Driving to CeBIT is
like going to a large sporting event or an amusement park. There are several
exits from the highway just for the show, and you’re guided to your parking spot
over acres and acres of grass fields via people wearing orange vests and waving
During the walk from the car to the hall (about 15 minutes), I saw several
airplanes pulling banners for various IT vendors and a few helicopters taking
off and landing from the show.
The main hall for CeBIT is Hall 1. This hall is actually dedicated to CeBIT,
(i.e. it’s never used the other 51 weeks of the year), and the exhibitors
permanently buy their space there. The exhibits are then permanently installed
and only used for one week per year.
Now, let me try to explain to you what these vendors can do with a permanent
exhibit. All of the exhibit “booths” (or whatever you call them) are at least
two stories tall, and many have their own elevators, cafes, and seating areas.
They’re built out of metal and glass and carbon fiber and other long-term
materials and have more lights, technology, and plasma screens than I’ve seen in
my entire life. Imagine the interior of a very trendy retail store, times one
One of the hundreds of multi-level permanent
booths. Note the second-level
cafe above the horizontal row of monitors. That
cafe was part of the booth!
One thing that quickly became clear to me was that it would take a solid week
just to walk by each exhibitor, so that meant that I needed a strategy. I found
that my strategy felt more like surfing the web than visiting a trade show. I
would sort of wander around and see something that interested me, and that would
cause me to look up related technology and exhibitors and then seek them out. I
was able to find exhibitor stand locations in the conference directory, which
I’m not kidding you is a 1.5” thick hardcover book that must weigh 5 pounds.
The CeBIT conference guide and
As you walk around, you’re barraged with over-stimulation. Visual
experience-wise, this place makes the Las Vegas strip seem like a cornfield in
Iowa. People dressed in Disneyworld-like character costumes, girls, mimes,
clowns, dance shows, Segways, cheerleaders, sports stars, musicians, artists,
magicians, and IT dorks all mingle and push their way through the aisles. One
thing is for certain—3.4 million square feet is not enough to hold this many
The final and best part of the CeBIT experience is the lodging situation.
There are probably not enough hotels in Germany, let alone Hannover, to hold all
the people who attend this show. Therefore, to accommodate out-of-town visitors,
all of the neighboring suburbs appeal to their residents to open their homes to
guests. It’s all managed centrally, with the CeBIT conference acting as a
matchmaker and hooking up visitors and host families. My two hosts (Frank Roth
and Bernhard Tritsch from visionapp) and I all stayed together as guests at the
house of a family of four. I personally slept in the bedroom of a German
high-school girl who had smartly chosen to stay with an out-of-town friend for
Any Server-Based Computing Info from CeBIT?
My real purpose for attending CeBIT was because I was invited by visionapp to
give a series of guru talks with visionapp SBC evangelist and fellow author
Bernhard Tritsch. I figured that I’d make the most of my time and see what
technology I could find that was related to the SBC field. It was actually kind
of difficult to find the SBC vendors in the CeBIT sea of technology, although I
did find a fair number of them in Halls 1 and 3.
Citrix has a very large booth (almost 3000 square feet) and was showing off
their entire product line. Since this is a generic IT show they didn’t really
have any announcements to make, instead focusing on educating the public as to
their capabilities in the access space.
I did ask some folks from the online division about the availability of
GoToWebinar (2006) and talked to Brad Peterson for quite a while about the new
Citrix Access Gateway. (For those of you who are wondering, I did finally manage
to order an Access Gateway (thanks Accelera Solutions in Virginia!) and I’ll be
testing that out when I return home in a few weeks.
Anyway, Brad was one of the top guys at Net6, and he’s very knowledgeable
about their products. Everything I’ve seen seems to point to the fact that these
gateway devices will be superior to a lot of standard SSL-VPNs (more on this in
future articles), although it remains to be seen how well Citrix can integrate
this into their suite of offerings (also more of this in future articles).
In addition to Citrix, HOB and Jetro were also at the show, as were several
thin client device vendors. I also learned about something called the “European
Thin Client Forum” (ETCF)—an advocacy group made up of thin client software and
hardware vendors whose mission is to push the adoption of thin client technology
in Europe. As is increasingly typical these days, the ETCF is made up of every
major vendor in the space except for Wyse, who feels there is no benefit in them
joining the group.
Now, for the fun stuff
Being the geek that I am, I was completely unprepared for the amount of
random and cool things that I would see, and I have to admit that I’ve spent
most of my time here with my jaw on the floor just staring at cool things,
Fuel cell-powered laptops. There were several vendors
offering several different solutions and form-factors. Most of these were
cartridge-based (i.e. use up a cartridge and return it for a full one) and could
fully power a laptop with an operating wireless card for 10 to 50 hours.
Toshiba had a tablet PC that featured a detachable screen.
This is nothing like HP’s tablet with a detachable keyboard, rather, the Toshiba
device left the processing in the base unit (like a normal laptop), and you
could detach the screen which would then act like a thin client display device
and communicate with the base via 802.11.
Samsung was showing off the world’s largest plasma TV which
measured 102 inches diagonally. (!) No word yet on pricing, although the booth
people hinted it would be over $100k.
Kodak had a bunch of photo kiosks set up in their booth, and
anyone could take a memory card from a camera into their booth and print out
photos from the show. This was offered as a service for free which was pretty
cool, especially since I’m not really sure what else Kodak does these days.
(Although maybe this gimmick didn’t work because I did make use of this service
but I still don’t know what Kodak does these days.)
Several vendors were showing off Mini-SD format memory
cards. (You know, as if a regular SD card is too big.) These Mini-SD
cards are about one square centimeter and can hold up to 2GB of data.
There must’ve been a dozen different vendors showing robotic CD and
DVD duplication systems. While I have no use for these whatsoever, they
are very cool to watch. A little robotic arm takes a blank CD from a stack and
inserts it into one of a bank of burners. When a CD is done, the drive ejects it
and the robot puts it into a normal CD-ROM drive to test the disc. If it tests
out okay the robot arm then puts the CD into a printer that prints the label.
When the printing is done the robot then drops the CD into a stack of “complete”
CDs. Imagine this whole process happening with a single robot arm serving a
half-dozen burning drives and a few printers. It’s really cool.
I saw a few different 3D displays. These looked like normal
LCD displays except that it looked like the people in the video were actually
little people running around inside the box. (So it was 3D in the sense that the
image went back “in” the display. It didn’t jump “out” at you.) The only thing
that was weird about these 3D displays was that you would notice a flicker
unless you were perfectly centered in front of the screen. I asked one of the
booth people about this and he said that it had to do with the focal length of
the two images that were geared for each eye, and that the image is also
affected by how far away from the screen you are and how far apart your eyes
are. He then pointed me to another demo unit that did not exhibit any of these
problems. It turns out that that unit has two cameras attached to the screen
that detect where your eyes are, and it updates the 3D image splitting and
processing dynamically in real time to make the image look good to you.
The folks who make that cool Robosapien toy showed off
several new toys, including a dinosaur and a dog. They also had an 6-foot
tall Robosapien which was really cool and not for sale.
The future technology area of the Siemens stand featured a display that was
projected from a tiny box onto a solid surface kind of like those IR laser
“virtual” keyboards you can use with a PDA. The cool thing about this Siemens
product was that you could interact with the display that was projected onto the
surface of the desk, i.e. you could draw or manipulate the screen in real time
as it was being projected onto whatever surface you wanted. Imagine this like an
LCD projector combined with a touch screen, then shrunk down to the size of a
pack of cards and powered by batteries.
The ceiling of the O2 booth was made up of thousands and thousands of glass
tubes that extended up into the darkness. Each of the tubes was hooked up to an
RGB LED source and could change color, and so the tips of these tubes worked
together to make up moving video images that stretched across the ceiling of
their entire booth.
Actually, there were quite a few cool booths. The biggest I saw was
T-Mobile’s which was over 100,000 square feet alone, but even most of the
“normal” booths had bars and cafes, and the booth people invited you to sit down
and have a chat with them in their booth while they fed you. Since this show is
in Europe, they don’t have the same smoking laws as we do in the US, so people
can smoke anywhere they want. It’s interesting to see people sitting in a booth
smoking cigarettes as they wait for people to come by.
In addition to being allowed to smoke, there were
many carts selling cigarettes moving through the convention
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